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Background: Boutros Boutros-Ghali at the U.N.

June 20, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: The U.N. story is first tonight. Today in back-to-back announcements, Boutros Boutros-Ghali said he wanted a second term as secretary-general of the United Nations, and the United States said no way. We begin with a backgrounder by Charlayne Hunter-Gault.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: When Boutros Boutros-Ghali became secretary-general of the United Nations five years ago, he was not the first choice of the United States. He was sixty-nine then and was thought by American officials in particular to be too old and not ready to lead the United Nations in a new direction. But Boutros-Ghali appeased some of his critics by saying he would step down after five years, a promise he broke this week when he confirmed to reporters his intention to seek a second term.

REPORTER: Will you want to stay another period in office?

BOUTROS BOUTROS-GHALI, U.N. Secretary General: Yes. I hope to have a second term in office.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: During Boutros-Ghali’s tenure, the number of peacekeeping missions has vastly expanded. The United Nations has sent troops into hot spots around the world to try to rebuild Cambodia, to end anarchy and starvation in Somalia, and to quell ethnic genocide in Rwanda. These large, expensive, and complicated missions frequently provoked controversy and produced mixed results.

Perhaps the U.N.’s most controversial peacekeeping effort was in Bosnia, where Boutros-Ghali and other U.N. officials came under fire for not using enough force to stop the fighting. In an interview with Robert MacNeil on the NewsHour last year, Boutros-Ghali acknowledged that the Bosnia operation hurt the U.N.’s reputation.

BOUTROS BOUTROS-GHALI: (June 2, 1995) Public opinion see the setback at the television every day, and they don’t know that you are doing work in the field of development, in the field of communication, in the field of human rights, in the field of democratization, in the field of technical assistance. So it damaged the image of the United Nations.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But Boutros-Ghali’s record has drawn some support, especially the mission in Haiti to restore the country’s president and maintain that fledgling democracy. In Congress and many other places, the U.N. bureaucracy has been criticized for being bloated and sometimes corrupt. Boutros-Ghali’s efforts to reform the organization have also been criticized as too little too late.

Boutros-Ghali and some U.N. members have responded both to administration and congressional criticism by charging that the U.S. is in arrears for more than $1 billion in dues. Boutros-Ghali has also been a target of the Republican presidential campaign. Candidate Bob Dole has made him a symbol of GOP opposition to putting U.S. troops under U.N. control.

SEN. BOB DOLE: And if there’s ever a time in my presidency where I have to make a decision about sending somebody in harm’s way, if that problem ever comes to me, put it that way, I will make that decision, not Boutros Boutros-Ghali at the United Nations.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: For several months, the Clinton administration has attempted a behind-the-scenes effort to convince Boutros-Ghali not to seek another term. Now administration officials say they’ll veto his nomination in the Security Council, the U.N. body that must recommend the candidate to the larger general assembly.

MIKE McCURRY, White House Press Secretary: We believe there are others in the world community, international community with the stature, experience, and leadership capability to do a superior job to Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Boutros-Ghali has been traveling around the globe in recent months trying to shore up support, even from such American allies as France and Germany, where he was today.

JIM LEHRER: Now the official U.S. view of all this. It comes from Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Nicholas Burns. He’s also the department spokesman. Mr. Secretary, welcome.

NICHOLAS BURNS, State Department Spokesman: Thank you.

JIM LEHRER: So Boutros-Ghali must go?

SEC. BURNS: Well, we think so. After very careful deliberation over many, many months, the President and Secretary of State Christopher decided that the United Nations needs a new injection of energy and of leadership for the next century. We believe in the United Nations. We think the United Nations can be an effective agent for peace in the world.

There are a lot of conflicts where the United States has not resolved tensions. It can be an effective agent for economic change around the world, especially in poor countries and in poor continents like Africa. It needs to be reformed. It’s a very bloated institution, too many people work there. It’s not cost-effective right now, and a lot of the major programs being carried out by the United Nations have simply not been as successful as they should be, so that’s the reason we made that–

JIM LEHRER: And this is Boutros-Ghali’s fault, in your opinion?

SEC. BURNS: He is the leader of the United Nations. He’s the secretary-general. He has tried in some ways to bring that kind of reform that we have called for to the United Nations. It has been half-hearted. It hasn’t been as determined as we would like it to see, so we think the time has come at the end of his term to select a new individual. It could be a man, it could be a woman from many capable candidates around the world to lead the United Nations into the future.

JIM LEHRER: Now, the, the reports are true that you all tried to make a deal with him, go quietly, I mean, in other words, extend it for a year, go quietly, and he said no to that, is that correct?

SEC. BURNS: Well, the Secretary of State felt we owed it to him to be very clear and direct and frank with him about our own intentions so over the last couple of months since early April, the Secretary has been talking to him, sometimes in face-to-face meetings, sometimes in phone conversations, about our views. At the end of the day, the end of last week and early this week, the Secretary did offer a one-year extension, that we would support a one-year extension, but Boutros-Ghali decided he could not accept that, so we have now gone public today with our determination to find someone else. So I would expect that over the next couple of weeks and months we’d be very busy around the world with our allies trying to find that individual.

JIM LEHRER: You don’t–you don’t have a candidate, and there’s no U.S. candidate now, is there?

SEC. BURNS: There’s no U.S. candidate right now. We don’t think it’s appropriate for us to impose a candidate on the rest of the world. The United Nations, of course, has to vote in the general assembly, all 185 members, for this person, and the recommendation will come, however, from the Security Council. We’re a leading member of the Security Council, so we believe that we can put together a coalition to support someone else.

JIM LEHRER: Well, the U.S. is not only a leading member, it has the power of veto, of course, in the U.N. Security Council, and you, you said today that the U.S. felt so strongly about this, the Boutros-Ghali issue that the U.S. would exercise a veto to keep him from getting a second five-year term, correct?

SEC. BURNS: Correct, but we hope it doesn’t come to that. It shouldn’t come to that. We hope that Boutros-Ghali will, will decide that he needs to step down, that the time has come for a new individual to take his place. If that does not happen, if he does force it to a vote, we will use our veto.

JIM LEHRER: He said today in Europe that he thought–he hoped that the United States would take a second look at this. Is that possible?

SEC. BURNS: I don’t think so. I think that the President’s decision is irrevocable at this point. We do feel very strongly that we need to support the United Nations. There are a lot of people in this country, some people who drive around with bumper stickers, “U.S. out of the U.N.”. We don’t believe that. We can’t solve all the world’s problems. We certainly can’t finance the resolution of some of the world’s problems. So we’ve got to rely on the United Nations, but it cannot be effective, in our judgment, without new leadership.

JIM LEHRER: Is there any connection between the U.S.’s problems with Boutros-Ghali and one, one–the dues arrears problem, the billion dollars that the U.S. owes the U.N.?

SEC. BURNS: There’s no real connection. It’s true that we are in debt to the United Nations. The United States is $1.1 billion in arrears to the United Nations. We’re not proud of that, and the Clinton administration has asked for full funding of those arrears from the United States Congress. Unfortunately, the Congress has decided that we’re not going to pay those arrears, at least not this year. We think that’s a shame. We think as the founder of the United Nations, as its leading member, and as the leading financier of the United Nations, we ought to be fully up to date in our commitments.v JIM LEHRER: Is it your feeling that with Boutros-Ghali out of the way, that Congress might change its attitude about ponying up $1.1 billion?

SEC. BURNS: Well, I think the Congress has had, both Democrats and Republicans, a lot of the concerns that we have had, and they’ve expressed them publicly, that it’s just too big an organization, that it doesn’t work the way it should, and the reforms have not gone nearly as far as they should, and perhaps with a new secretary-general, someone who is both the world’s leading diplomat but also an aggressive reformer of the United Nations, perhaps then Congress would support full funding.

JIM LEHRER: Just a matter of process here, let’s say that Boutros-Ghali doesn’t back off, and let’s say this thing comes to a vote in the Security Council, there are also four other permanent members: France, Britain, China, and Russia. Could one of them block–one of them could block a U.S. choice, could they not? In other words, this thing could get messy before it’s over?

SEC. BURNS: That could happen. We don’t want that to happen, so what we’ve done over the past couple of weeks is Sec. Christopher has been in touch with all of his colleagues from those countries and many other countries to let them know that we were going to take this decision, make it clear to Boutros-Ghali that we would not support his candidacy for a second term, and that we wanted to work with them to identify someone around the world. It could be a man, it could be a woman–there has never been a woman secretary-general–to lead us into the next century. The Security Council, however, operates by consensus, and you’re absolutely right, that unless all five decide on a candidate, that candidate will not go forward.

JIM LEHRER: Should this decision today be seen as a consensus decision? Was this thing greased with the other four members?

SEC. BURNS: I can’t say that it was to that extent. We’re speaking for ourselves today. It’s not easy. It wasn’t easy to make this decision. We could have done nothing. If we had done nothing, then Boutros-Ghali, I think, would have sailed into a second term. We decided that we had to lead a process to identify someone else, so we now have to convince many of the others that a candidate that we can identify is the best person to lead the organization, but it’s not greased, and there’s no deal at this point.

JIM LEHRER: Do you–you used the word convinced. I mean, the United States, of course, there’s already been comments today, and I’m sure we’ll hear others about, oh, the United States is trying to run the United Nations, trying to, to decide who’s going to be the U.N. Secretary-General because it’s a big bully. Umm, you’re not–the U.S. is taking the position that it must convince, it must do this. I mean, it can’t just mandate this, is that right?

SEC. BURNS: Certainly, we can’t tell the United Nations what to do, but we are the leading country in the United Nations. One out of every three dollars that the United Nations has comes out of American taxpayer pockets. So we do have influence, and we do have an obligation to the United States and to the American people to lead, and that’s what we’re trying to do here.

JIM LEHRER: And there is no backing off the position that the United States will prevent Boutros-Ghali from being–from getting a second term, correct?

SEC. BURNS: There is no turning back. We’ve got to move forward and find someone else.

JIM LEHRER: Any connection between this and the presidential election campaign?

SEC. BURNS: There isn’t, and I’ll tell you why. The Secretary of State and the President started discussing this way back in the fall of 1995, well before Sen. Dole was identified as the lead Republican for the nomination, and well before this really became the primary issue in the Republican campaign. We’re doing this because we think it’s in the best interests of the United States.

JIM LEHRER: All right, Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.

SEC. BURNS: Thank you, Jim.